Trace your family history
Our local history and archives centre has many resources that are useful for tracing both local and non-local ancestors.
These resources include:
some non-conformist church records
- local histories
- electoral registers.
You can consult documents free of charge, but please check with us first that the records you want are available.
If they are in microform, you need to book a machine.
How to start
Begin by finding out as much as you can from family papers (birth and marriage certificates, letters and family Bibles) and from older relatives. It is also helpful to read a book on the subject.
Once you have gathered all the information you can, you will be able to decide where to start your search.
Most people begin with a set of known facts which they work backwards from into the past using marriage and birth or baptism records.
For example, you may know the date and place of birth of your grandmother. Her baptism or birth certificate will tell you the names of her parents. Then you can search for their marriage, birth or baptism certificates. Birth and baptism certificates will give you the names of their parents, so you can continue tracing back.
Births, deaths and marriages register
The register office keeps records from 1837 to the present day. Our bereavement services office holds over 190,000 burial and cremation records from Lewisham cemeteries.
Burial and cremation records
Some parish registers record Church of England baptisms, marriages and burials dating back to 1538. They do not usually record dates of births and deaths.
Most Lewisham borough parishes have deposited their registers with the local history and archives centre and some are still held by the churches themselves.
Contact the local history and archives centre to see if we hold the registers you want to see.
There is no name index covering all the registers.
If you are stuck, try the International Genealogy Index (IGI). This lists baptism and marriage entries for the whole country (coverage is patchy). It is arranged alphabetically by surname within each county. It is available on microfiche for the whole of England or online at Family Search.
Civil registration records
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in July 1837. The General Register Office holds records for England and Wales. You can get certificates if you can give the name, date and place of birth, marriage or death.
If you are unsure of precise details, try checking the GRO indexes to births, marriages and deaths. They are arranged alphabetically by surname within the quarter of the year in which the event was registered. The details are limited (name, quarter of the year when the event was registered, and the registration district, not parish).
You can also search indexes online at FreeBMD. Coverage is not complete but it is worth checking.
Census records for England and Wales are held at the National Archives.
You can see copies for the Lewisham area at the local history and archives centre.
Indexes are available for 1851 (printed) and 1881 (microfiche) or online at Ancestry. You can view these for free at any Lewisham library, with a fee charged for printing images.
Wills and other probate records
Wills can give you valuable information about the person who made the will and their links with family and friends. An administration may have been granted if the deceased did not leave a valid will.
Although less informative than wills, administrations name the person appointed to administer the estate (often the next of kin), while the date of the document indicates an approximate date of death.
Before 1858, wills were made legally valid by church courts. The Lewisham area is covered by Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). Wills dating from before 1858 are held by the National Archives and can be seen on microfilm or online at Ancestry. The index is free, but there is a fee for the digital images.
From 1858 civil courts proved wills and the original wills and administrations for England and Wales are at the Principal Probate Registry. The index is available on microfiche at the National Archives (1858–1946).
Bromley Local Studies and Archives
Central Library, High Street, Bromley, BR1 1EX
Tel: 020 8461 7170
North West Kent Family History Society
You might also find it helpful to join a family history society – the Lewisham area is covered by the North West Kent Family History Society.